Apple has faced yet another roadblock in its quest to squash both rival Samsung and Android. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has temporarily invalidated Apple's US Patent No. 7,844,915 which covers the "pinch to zoom" smartphone navigation feature. This was one of the key patents Apple used against Samsung back in August which helped land the iPhone maker $1.05 billion in damages.
In a letter sent to Apple's lawyers on Wednesday, the USPTO stated that it had completed a re-examination of the pinch-to-zoom patent, and rejected all of Apple's claims. The Office cited published documents and older patents as the basis of its rejection, calling Apple's supposed inventions "unpatentable". The invalidation isn't final, and Apple will have a chance to appeal.
Samsung, which received a copy of the USPTO letter, filed it with the court on Thursday, saying that it was relevant to its request for a new trial. It is also expected to help fend off Apple's continued request for a permanent injunction against the South Korean manufacturer's "infringing" products. A U.S. judge denied on Monday Apple's request for a permanent injunction.
Earlier this month, the USPTO issued a "first Office action" rejecting all twenty claims of "the Steve Jobs patent," otherwise known as U.S. Patent No. 7,479,949 ('949). It covers a "touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics". A reexamination request against the '949 patent was denied by the USPTO back in 2010, but a recent second request resulted in the opening of a reexamination proceeding, and the current invalidation.
The USPTO also declared all twenty claims in Apple's "rubber-banding" patent, aka U.S. Patent No. 7,469,381, invalid in a non-final Office action back in October. The patent in question, "List scrolling and document translation, scaling, and rotation on a touch-screen display," describes what happens when iOS users reach the end of a scrolling list or pane, among other things. Users see the screen somewhat "bounce" as if its connected to the device with rubber bands.
Yet now with three patent strikes against Apple, it's unclear if the findings will have any impact on its case against Samsung. All three are merely temporary invalidations, and it could be years before the USPTO presents a final verdict.
"Many patent claims that are rejected at this stage do ultimately survive," Foss Patents said earlier this month. "There are many steps inside the USPTO, followed by a potential appeal to the Federal Circuit. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the significance of a first Office action. Also, a complete rejection of all claims of a given patent is potentially more devastating than one affecting only some claims."
Apple and Samsung have been locked in a patent war across more than ten countries world-wide for some time. Unfortunately, verdicts haven't been consistent on a global scale, blurring the line between who is wrong and who is right in the overall infringement dispute. As an example, back in October the Dutch court ruled that Samsung did not infringe on Apple's multi-touch patent despite the U.S. ruling.
Representatives for Samsung and Apple have yet to make a comment on the new patent invalidation.